Last week, we presented an approach to justify korbanot. Just as someone madly in love is frustrated with a platonic relationship and wants to express the love physically, so to someone bursting with religious fervor is frustrated with prayer and wants to serve God physically (through korbanot).
But there is a problem with this approach. Most of us do not feel religious fervor regularly. Yet korbanot are a major focus of traditional Judaism – not just in the past but in the future as well. Every single amidah includes prayers for the Temple to be rebuilt and the sacrificial service to be restored. How can our heart be in these prayers, when slaughtering animals for God seems so foreign? The meat we buy at the supermarket is pristinely packaged – a far cry from a slaughterhouse!
Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook has a fascinating solution to this problem. (Yes, he believes there will be korbanot in the future.) He starts by referring to a bizarre story in the Gemara. We will now cite parts of it:
A FIERY LION IN THE HOLY OF HOLIES
“Woe, woe. It is the [inclination for idolatry] which destroyed the Temple … and exiled Israel from our land, and it is still dancing among us. Was it given to us for any reason other than to receive reward [for resisting it]? We want neither it nor the reward.”. . .
They sat fasting for three days and three nights, and it was handed over to them. It departed from the Holy of Holies as a fiery lion-cub. The prophet [Zechariah] said to Israel: “This is the inclination for idolatry,” as it is written, “And he said: ‘This is the wickedness’” (Zechariah 5:8). . .
They said: “Since this is a time of grace, let us ask for mercy regarding the inclination for [sexual] sins.” They asked for mercy, and it was handed over to them.
It said to them: “Realize that if you kill me, the world will be finished.”
They imprisoned it for three days, but when they then looked in the entire land of Israel for a fresh egg, they could not find one.
They said: “What should we do? Should we kill it? The world will be finished. Should we ask for mercy on a portion? They do not grant halves in heaven.” [We could pray for half its power to be removed, so that people would desire their spouses and nobody else, but that’s not the way things work – U.C.]
Notice that the statement made about the evil inclination for sex – “They do not grant halves in heaven” – presumably applies as well to the evil inclination for idolatry. The sages here discovered that imprisoning the former desire resulted in the end of life (as represented by eggs), so they released it. Yet they kept the latter desire imprisoned. What ended as a result?
YOU CAN’T HAVE ONE WITHOUT THE OTHER
Rav Kook suggests that ever since the evil inclination for idolatry has been nullified, the invigorating vitality of love for the divine has disappeared too. The strong desire for idolatry was like a lion in the Holy of Holies, meaning it was just an untamed form of the desire for God. Now both desires are gone, but in the future both will return (Eder HaYakar, pp. 30-31).
Rav Yuval Cherlow (Hebrew) elaborates:
Korbanot are an expression of the human feelings of closeness to God. When these are gone – since the Shekhinah is in exile and an iron wall separates the Jews from our heavenly Father – there is no way to bring korbanot, nor a need to fight idolatry.
The war against idolatry didn’t disappear from halakhic literature, but that’s because it will return! Explicit divinity will return along with its danger; thus the need to fight it. Part of the struggle will take place through korbanot, which will facilitate the desire to get close in a divinely sanctioned way.
According to this, the fact that we cannot offer korbanot today isn’t a mere technicality but well-founded in God’s supervision of history… Rav Kook saw … the inability to fulfill a mitzvah as teaching us that it is inappropriate for people at this time.
In other words, God doesn’t expect us to bring korbanot unless we collectively have the burning desire to be close to the divine. We don’t feel it now, but we will in messianic times. Korbanot will return because they will give expression to the fervor we will feel. But we will be tempted by idolatry too. You can’t have one without the other.